By LARRY VAUGHT
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy has watched John Calipari coach long enough to know that Kentucky’s season-opening 34-point loss to Duke will not define UK’s season.
“John is the best coach I have ever seen at being flexible with his system and adapting to the players he has,” DeCourcy said. “He has a challenge this year but he also has a lot of weapons. I know he will figure it out. I am just not sure when. It will be better if it is soon because Kentucky has a difficult stretch of games in December and then the strongest SEC schedule maybe ever.
“Duke played inspired against Kentucky and played very precisely. It was the perfect storm for the Blue Devils, but they have not played like that since then. It will be difficult for Duke to play at that level very often.”
Determining the team’s top point guard is a must for Calipari. DeCourcy said he was a bit surprised that Calipari started Ashton Hagans against Duke.
“In August they were very impressive in the Bahamas (in four exhibition games) but they didn’t play a team that had the first three picks in the draft (like Duke could have). The teams they played had relatively competent players but not top draft picks. In those games they had been bringing Hagans off the bench as a defensive boost and he would amp up the way they were playing.
“Against Duke I think it got to be 29-10 and it was over. If John had another point guard with better offensive skills on the floor, maybe those 10 UK points become 18 or 20 and it is still a game. I think that was a mistake John made here. He doesn’t make many mistake but he got one wrong there.”
DeCourcy believes Hagans will be a “fine player and probably a pro” but simply is not advanced offensively at this point, especially considering the other players Kentucky has dependent on what the point guard does.
“Kentucky does not have a lot of shot creators. Keldon (Johnson) can get to the rim and Tyler (Herro) can score but P.J. (Washington), Reid (Travis) and Nick (Richard) are all dependent on getting the ball in good positions. Kentucky needs to have its point guard position resolved and could become a great team when that happens. I think Immanuel Quickley is the best option. Quade (Green) can get in position but is not overly dynamic in the lane. Immanuel is the best option if John can get him on the same page with the veteran players.”
DeCourcy says more consistent play from sophomores Green, Washington and Richards would help but that Calipari searching for the right playing rotation early in the season is nothing new.
“It’s going to take John a while to find the perfect system this year,” DeCourcy said. “Think back to 2011 and it took to early February to find the right mix for that group that made the Final Four. Some years it just takes time. This is one of those years.”